The largest breeding site for flamingos in Asia is being threatened due to the diversion of 80 hectares of the Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary for the construction of a road.
The 262km-long road to facilitate movement of the Border Security Force was given the go-ahead in the first meeting of the newly constituted National Board for Wildlife (NBW) chaired by PM Narendra Modi, giving an indication of things to come.
Environmentalists have been concerned with the signals coming from the environment ministry that has been reconstituting panels and seeking changes in laws to make way for speedy clearances for projects.
The plan had been rejected by the earlier board in 2011 when it said that "the proposed road would in all probability result in the abandonment of this only breeding site of flamingos, which in turn could spell doom to the population of these birds in the Indian subcontinent".
Commenting that the move is detrimental to the 150,000 flamingo population, policy and advocacy officer at Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Neha Sinha told IBTimes.UK: "The proposed road is only for use in the monsoon months, because the area otherwise is completely flat and navigable at other times. Roads also disturb the areas by bringing pollution, fragmenting the mix of saline and fresh water."
The Flamingo City wetland is part of the Kachchh Desert Wildlife Sanctuary. It falls in a list of 10 important bird and biodiversity areas (IBAs) in danger, as identified by BNHS.
The proposed road to facilitate movement of the Border Security Force would also jeopardise other species like the wild ass, the Indian wolf and Indian bustard found in the region, says BNHS.
In a sign of utter degradation of bird habitats, the number of the Great Indian bustards in the Nannaj Sanctuary in Maharashtra was down from 26 birds in 2006 to just three in 2013.
The Karera Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh awaits the Supreme Court approval for denotification following the total disappearance of the bustard, the first time a sanctuary will be denotified in the country.
The Ranebennur Blackbuck Sanctuary in Karnataka, once home to 25 Great Indian bustards, has seen none for 15 years.
In Sailana Kharmor sanctuary in MP, the Lesser florican, a species endemic to Indian sub-continent, was down to 12 in 2013. Basai Wetland in Haryana, home to the sarus crane and Indian stork, is losing out to urbanisation. Human settlements, livestock grazing, and water scarcity have driven out floricans totally from the Sardarpur Florican Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh.
According to the BNHS report, destruction or disturbance due to infrastructure development, non-conclusive conservation policies, indiscriminate livestock grazing, industrial and sewage pollution, indiscriminate agricultural expansion including use of pesticides, rapid urbanisation and poaching are some of the major reasons behind the loss of biodiversity and disappearance of bird species.
"Unfortunately in India, various projects ask for part or whole areas of IBAs for the cause of development and IBAs do not get any official recognition," notes Raju Kasambe, project manager of BNHS' IBA programme.
At the mudflats of Mahul Sewri in Mumbai - home to 15,000 lesser flamingo, sandpipers, terns, plover and gulls - a freeway proposed by the Mumbai development authority to cut short commuting times between stretches of the city has disrupted life for its huge bird population.
Despite appeals by the BNHS that sought a 600m deviation to the south from the proposed area, the authority plans to go ahead.
"We are working at getting this fabulous place protected. This area gets more than 50,000 birds in Mumbai - unimaginable for this city! We feel realignment will serve both purposes of development and habitat protection," said Sinha.
The BNHS is also actively involved in restoration of the Great Indian bustard populations and is assisting the Centre at setting up a conservation breeding facility while also working with Rajasthan on implementing their state action plan on bustards.